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tv   Firing Line With Margaret Hoover  PBS  March 20, 2020 11:30pm-12:01am PDT

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>> he starred in t two presidential impeachments, this week on "firing line." >> our job is to gather facts and to evaluate those facts and to get at the truth. >> he became a household name investigating the clintons. >> i did not have sexual relations with that woman. >> ken starr brought us an affair to remember in all its unforgettable detail. >> the preside publicly acknowledged an inapopriate relationship. ia during the next preside impeachment, starr said there was no case. >> ion't think tt there's anything close to an impeachable offense here. >> and president trump hired him to join his defense team. >> impeachment is hell >> he argued there is too much impeachment. what does ken starr say now? >> "firing line with margaret hoover is made possible by... di
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additional f is provided by... corporate funding is provided by... >> ken starr, welcome to "firing line." >> you've been involved in both impeachments in this country's modern history. in the 1990s, you led the probe that investigated bill clinton and ultimately recomnded grounds for impeachmen most recently involvedo as defense counsel in president trump's impeachmentl. tr true? >> [ chules ] >> true? >> true. >> true? >> i wou quibble a little bit with the description in the clinton impeachment because i was serving as independent counsel, so it's such a different role. >> do you think it's fair to say that you were involved in the impeachment, though? >> i was involved in t impeachment, yeah. >> okay. >> you got me. great cross-examination.
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i want to make sure the introduction to the program is accurate. how is it you came to be involved as a defense attorney for president trump's impeachment? >> the president called me and asked me to be involved. and then i made it very clear that i could not walk away from my public comments, that i thought that thee president's phll was inappropriate and unwise. so i could not be taking the position that the phone call was perfect. but nonetheless, my role was a specific role, to talk about the constitutional and historical underpinnings >> so, i tught we'd starts. actually by first watching a clip from president trump's impeachment trial. let's take a look. >> the senate is being called to sit as the high court impeachment all too frequently. indeed, were living in what acthink can aptly be described
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as the age of iment. >> what has brought us to be living in an age of impeachment? >> we still live in the shadow of richard nixon. richard nixon's culpability, his long and horrible record, as brilliant as he was, then relted not only in his resignation, but congress responded instead of saying, you know, "the system worked,"ed congress respoy passing, a few years later, the independent counsel law. and the independent counsel law really did usher in the age of impeachment. and it was the independent counsel law under which ronald reagan s threatened. he survived. and then bill clinton was actually impeached he obviously survive but we were in the ageme of impea. everybody talks impeachment now a lot. and we didn't used to be that way as a ople. it is now, as we've seen,
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in my judgment, altoo easy to impeach a president of the united states. let's have a debate and a discussion, and let's have elections. >> is that opinion or that experience as an independent counsel? >> absolutely. i've led it now twice. but especially during the clinton years, when a conversation began but it really didn't get under way veryeriously to censure him. >> there w some discuson about censure this time around, as well. >> yes. yes. in fact -- >> would you have vihat as a more preferable outcome or course of action? >> well, now i'm gna say, as someone who's served the president as his attorney... >> right, right. >> ...i'm gonna spk now as someone who is simply a citizen and who observes -- of course. why would we remove a president fr office when we're just months away from an election? i realize that became justpo a talkint, but it's true. >> do you think the president called you because he saw you on tv? >> i have no idea. defending the president
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on tevision before you were officially hired. r >> does ch the level of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors? my assessment of the evidence thus far, nowhere close. the evidence is conflicting and ambiguous. >> after that clip, the president tweeted thatgr hed with what you said. >> oh. >> "you shouldn't charge, but you cannotonvict a sitting president on the basis of conflicting and ambiguous eviden and destabilize the american government. thank you, ken!" [ both laugh ] so, it's after that that he reached out to you. >> well, this was, of course, during the testimony itself. right? so, yes, it definitely was after that. >> you were personally so tied especially during the clintons, it strikes some people as odd to hear you lament the age of impeachment now. >> is it that you have more cdibility to speak to it? [ both laugh ] >> others would be the judge of that. but i was privileged to serve in the reagan administration,
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and we opposed the independentl counw. we said it's unconstitutional. and one of the reasons was because, as antonin scalia well put it, in an opiniodecrying the independent counsel statute, context of the statute, is -- and these are the words of justice scalia --e "acrid with ell of impeachment." this was a tool, a threat, a gun pointed by congress at the white house. and very unfortunately, presidents, including president clinton, kept reauthorizing the statute when they should've had the gumption and wisdom to say, "we don't ed this." the nixon experience teaches us that thtried and true separion of powers and oversight process works. we don't need some independent counsel out running aroundnd for years on which is what i was. i was an independent counsel operating in this very, very strange world. >> can you explain your constitutional quibbleth he statute itself?
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>> it begins with the word "independent."os the utorial function should be part of the executive branch. ultimately, the president's responsibility. and so an vestigation of the president should presumptively be conducted by the justice department, and the chips fall where they may. now, the justice department may see fit to say, "you know, for this particular investigation, we need to go outside." but what the indepdent counsel law did was to create the statutory mechanism that, with really a hair trigger, we're going toes appoint many -- there were many independent counsels running around the countryside, and they were people of integrity. but it was the whole idea of the office and that the office exists among other reasons, yes, to ensure integrity, but also to impeach the president. concerns about the statute and you thought the statute itself was unconstitutional,
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why did you accept the job? >> becau the supreme court held it to be constitutional, so my views were not accepted by the supreme crt. p thatnt one. point two, i was asked to do it. and point three is, i knew that we could build in mechanisms of checks and balances whin the office so that it was not the decision in the exercise of his or her unfettered discretion making these judgments. and i brought in an outside ethics counsel who was a veteran of watergate himself, the legendary sam dash. >> ultimately, that outside ethics counsel resigned the day after you testified in front of the house of representatives. >> yes, he did. >> what did you make of that? i mean, i read -- i read that part of your book very closely. >> i was really befuddled, perplexed, i was dappointed. and i gathered the round table, the next day of our colleagues, i said, "did i actually become..." which was the gravamen of the la sam dash's
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complaint, " advocate for impeachment during the course of my testimony for the house judiciary commite?" the irony is, sam dash had approved of our referral oreport, the controversial report to congress, the salacious report. he had approved of it. and i can't judge that, and i never had a conversation with him -- that during the course of my testiny, i became an advocate for impeachment as opposed to simplyde the ndent counsel presenting the evidence. disagreed with them and so did all of my colleagues. >> but you never spoke to him about it? no, and i should have. but he handled it the way he handled it, which was to issue a letter publicly, and i was not pleased with that. but bygones be bygones. and i'm not gonna speak ill of sam dash. he was a great man. >> so, president clinton's impeachment was because he lied
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under oath abo his affair with monica lewinsky. correct? >> and obstrucd justice. >> let me ask you about a critique -- and i'm sure you've read this article. lawrence walsh, who was the independent counsel during the iran-contra affair. he wrote in a article 1998 about your investigation that your activity was not consistent with that of a prossional prosecutor, generally because prosecutors avoided perjury prosecutions. what is your response? >> i respectfully disagr. >> of course you do. >> but my response is, i gathered togetr a really all-star cast of prosecutors from around the country, includinge the justpartment. now, judge walsh was just absolutely his view. lawyers sometimes have different views. was just so powerful, and there it was essentially b acceptthoughtful people that, yes, the president d commit perjury.
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but does that -- then we come back to impeachment. does that warrant, given the nature and the context, his removal from office? and obviously the senate determed, no, it does not. >> all right. so let's go back to 1994, actually, the head of the office of independent counsel whitewater,o investigate which was an investigation of bill and hillary clinton and several of their associate from arkansas involved in real-estate deals. >> right. >> and you wrote in your book, "contempt," that you "sensed that investigating clinton,ut our new ul president, was likely not going to be a care-enhancing move." >> [ laughs ] >> was your instinct, right? i look back on it,o. still would have taken the job. obviously, i would have had greater wisdom borne of experience to bring to bear. and one of things that i've said is that i wish that there had been another independent counsel to take on the mica lewinsky matter. i mean, that's my big takeaway,
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because i was readype to go to pine university, become the dean of the law school and the founding dean of the school of public policy. so here we are, back to the independent counsels -- you give them one thing, but then other things come to their attention. and what are they to do? clinton survived whitewater, though he had testified untruthfully time and time again. >> yes. >> was it just that the evidence was never sufficient for an indictment? >> it wasn't that we didn't have plenty of evidence. we did not have admissible evidence or credible evidence. so prosetors frequently note the distinction between what they know and what they canpr e. and it's a great protection for american libertyat ou've got -- the ethical prosecutor has to make a judgment -- hopefully it's a collaborative judgment -- with professionals around him or her, that say, "we can prove this case beyond a rsonable doubt before a fair-minded jury." that's the standard, and it's a tough standard to meet now, we just didn't read it with either president clinton o
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hillinton, but we both -- in our community, i'll just speak for myself. others can speak for themselves. we believe that they were gatruthful in connection with those invesons. >> do you believe that there were crimes they committed that they got away with? >> yes. >> what crimes do you think that y committed that he got a with? >> i'm not gonna get into what the specific offenses were. you know, it's a matr of history now. so let's just let history the judge of that. >> you just said that you thought that the monica affair ought to have been a separate, independent counsel. >> yes. >> you went to attorneral reno when this part of it that your probe be expanded to include this part of it. what would have it taken for it at that point? a separate office >> as a practical matter, the attorney general would have needed someone right then and there, who is ready to go with a staff who could begin the process of investigating what was under wa so there were rapidly -- >> so there was really no way that it could've become a separate investigation >> no. >> the coming to light of the situation with monica
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got you this green light known as "prom night,"on which was when lewinsky a was brought otel room in pentagon city mall and offered immunity.oned i'd like to take a look no what monica has said about that momenin hindsight. >> i remember looking out the window and thinking that the only way to fix this was to kila myselfto jump out the window. and, um... i -- i just -- i felt terrible. i was scared. and i just... i was mortifieand afraid of what this was gonna do to my family, d... you know, i still was in love with bill at the time. um... so i just -- i felt really respsible. >> had you seen that before?
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>> no, i hadot. >> so, in your book, you wrote that you deeply regret tiat you took on the lewinsky phase of the invtion, but at the same time, 20 years later,'t you diee that there was any practical alternative to doing so. explain at. >> well, we just chatted about there was no one else in the wings that jano could have reached out so as tical matter, it was us. but it was her judgment. we recommend that we take it on, so the -- but the buck really does stop with janet reno. i dcommended it, but she ha the choice of saying, "it shouldn't be investigated at all." but she did the right thing. she knew that it had to be investigated. as sad and tragic from a human perspective as this was and monica's distress -- i mean, her -- her anguish, considering taking her own le, i mean, this is a human tragedys anute human tragedy. unfortunately, the criminal laws we have -- s because what w seeking to do? she was trying to encourage
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someone to commit peury, and she had committed perjury herself. that end up having these very sad legal implications for the criminal law. >> in thintervening years, to really shed a lt has come on the power imbalances between and relationships in the workplace. how do you think this would have been understood had it cometo ight after the #metoo era? >> i think we've seen such a culture shift that even though that -- and i nt to be absolutely clear about this -- this relationship was consensual. and i've never suggested in any comment or in any report otherwise. but i think we nonetheless view the human interaction through a different lens now.nk and so i tt would be -- i think would be viewed quite differently. >> there is new documentary out on hulu, called "hillary," where bill clinton actually reflects
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on what led him to have at affair with monica lewinsky. take a look at how he describes his actions. e >> everybody's ls pressures and disappointments and terrors, fears of whatever. things i did to manage my anxiety for years. i'm a different -- totally different person than i was, with a lot of that stuff, you >> his explanation there for why he had an affair with monica lewinsky was that he was managing his an >> right. i'm not going toudge that. i just don't judge people's motives and... look, he is an incredibly winsome, attractive guy, and he is able to articulate visions of his o conduct. he is just a great communicator.
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>> looking back on it, ishere anything you would differently? >> well, above all, it would have been assigned toomeone else. if i could rewind,ve i would een more persuasive in saying to the house judiciary committee, "i do not need to testify." the testimony was essentially limited to my day-long testimony. and so i think that gave --ai we talked about sam dash -- the impression that i'm pushing for impeachment. i've heard that nce taking on the role for president trump. impeachment.ere pushing fo now you're defending the president." and i've been pretty darn consistent. let's get out of the business of impeaching the president ofte the united s except unr the, truly, a last-resort kind of set of circumstances. and richard nixon was th. and what's the last resort? the last resort ll indicaten that, gil the facts, the totality of the facts, that there will, in fact,
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be biparsan support. 410 members of the house of representatives voted in favor of the nixon impeachment inquiry. it was virtually unanimous. four votes again it. so they just said the nation needs to take a very careful look at what present nixon did. >> but what strikes me, also, that, in the intervenin years since the nixon impeachment, congress has become, in many ways, less of an independent brch and less of a check on the executive branch. it is just less likely that you g democrats who side with republicans and republicans who side with democrats. you see more and more, increasingly since 1973, 1974,li part votes with nobody going to the other side. the moderate democrats and the moderate republicans are gone. >> well, my -- >> couldn't that be part of this? >> it may be part of it. that's a very broad perspective enon what's happened to thre politics of the country. but remember that at least in the president clinton situation, 31 decrats voted in
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favor of the impeachment inquiry, whereas here, with president trump, ro republicans did.of and onlyourse, mitt romney voted in favor of -- in favor of one of the two articles. >> you talk a lot about how the clton white house was too close with the department of justice,t th relationship was often improper. and they were, f example, coordinatinghe responses, the department of justice, the white house during the clinton impeachment hearing and during the time you were running enthe office of the indepe counl. do you have similar concerns out the coordination between the trump white house and its department of justice?'t >> yeah, i havome to view on that. but what i do -- >> why? >> i haven't seen all the factss >> the debate about the relationship between the attorney general and the president -- attorney general william barr, specifically, and the president -- and whether he is exercising the proper degree
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of independence as he leads the justice department. and there is a judge reggie b. walton, who wrote in a memorandum about inconsistencies between the mueller repo and how barr characterized it in his summary th he sent to congress. he said that the report... >> i honestly, margaret, cannot comment at all. i haven't re reggie walton's, judge walton's report, and i've certainly not read i did not think -- as of this time, i did not -- i do not think that what attorney general barr said in that initial press conference was in any way misleading. but you can easily say, "oh, well, you should've said this and that, because it's a 400-page report. this was a judgment call by the
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attorney general. >> it was a judgment call, but ce wasn't just what he said in the press confer it was what he wrote in the letter and whether the summary letter that he sent to congressa fairlycterized what was in the report. >> i think at the time i felt . it was that it was fa you can always criticize the letter as not being as complete as it should. >> what does that mean that a come out and said that hedge has believes the attorney general was not fairly cracterizing the report? >> well, it's something that has to be taken seriously. i'm just not prepared to comment on it because i've not read judge walton's order, i haven't en the redacted provisions -- parts of the report. fo>> it's unusual -- no? -a deral judge -- >> oh, of course it is. >> and what does that do to attorney general barr's tenure at the headof he justice department? >> being the attorney general is incredibly difficult. you're going to take brickbats, including at times from judges. it's the hardest jobpects, outside of being the president
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e the united states in government, beca every turn, you're going to be absolute savaged -- not just criticized, savaged -- calls that you make.ent and so i'm very empathetic. full disclosure -- i served with bill barr, and i served under bill barr. and i know him to be a personof otal integrity. >> the most fun part of the show is that william f. buckleyr. hosted the original "firing line." and in 1992, you were on the original "firing line." you were discussing torts and reforms, hed i'd like you to take a look at what you said >> let's move to another one of youproposals, namely the the cap on punitive damages. >> our proposal is to recommend to the states that the states, through their legislative bodies, consider imposing a cap. a number have, by the way. some have actually abolished punitive damages. they're sayinghat the efficacy
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of punitive damages is really quite and yet the ictability is so high that it serves as a wild card. punitive damages claims are almost always asserted. by the way, so thesystem very frequently does work. but again, it has the wild-card effect, because when you do get a punitive damages award, it tends to be astronomically high. >> do you still think the same way about punitive damages as you did in 1992? >> absolutely not. >> why? y has your thinking changed? >> punitive damages are actually a very important part of our system. there's a lot of terrible stuff that goes on in e world, and the law of torts -- fancy word, or french word for "wrongs" -- developed this mechanism, and the mechanism makes complete sense. to deter someone from doing that again, we're not gonna send them to jail, but we're going to say, "hereyou're going to pay an additional sum of money
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to theictim." but i was also, at thatime, the solicitor general of the united states, and i was an advocate. i was an advocate for a reform package that we were pursuing under president bush 41. >> in your private practice, you have wound up, als a position where you sued for punitive damage. >> absolutely. but i do think seriously that there is an important role for punitive damages to play in our system of righting wrongs. like any good tool, it can be misused or it can be carried away. but there are mechanisms to ensure that it's used properly as a tool. >> so, were those litigaons that you're a part of, the wisdom and experience that led to you changi your mind or efd you change your mind bore? >> oh, no. i've been much more, shall i say, broad-minded as a lawyer in private practice, as a judge, that punitive
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mages have a very important role to pl. >> ken starr, thank you for coming to "firing line." >> thank you, margaret. yeah. [ both laugh ] "firing line with margaret hoover" is made possible by... additional funding is provided by... corpore funding is provided by... >> you're watching pbs.
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hello, everyone. lcome to amanpour & he what's coming up. asoronavirus panic teatens to become an epidemic, how to keep the faithful they are extraordinary times. leading religious scholar karen armstrong on maintaining a sense of community and solidarity. then my interview on what china is doing to help out. plus, the yale sociologist nicholas christakis t we're wired for goodness even during these difficult times. andinally something


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